Ever since VAR has been instituted in the Premier League this season, there has been controversy after controversy in nearly every game played. It’s such a big issue that coin terms are given to teams that people think benefit the most from VAR the most (ex. LiVARpool and VARchester United). Just recently, Chelsea themselves have been victims of VAR’s failures this season when we played Manchester United at the bridge on Monday. Just as a quick summary, 3 main discrepancies during that game which pundits, coaches, and fans alike have been debating online.
First off, the incident with Maguire and Batshuayi was undoubtedly the center of attention in this mess. Frank Lampard himself openly stated that it was a clear red card, no second question. After the game, he told reporters: “Maguire should have been sent off, that’s clear, and that obviously changes the game. It’s just a wrong decision – everyone I’ve spoken to has said the same – which I suppose is harder to take with the presence of VAR. Decisions like that are crucial. That’s a major part of what VAR was brought in for a second viewing, different angles. I don’t get why they aren’t looking at the monitor. It should be used.”
As clearly shown, the manager was furious with the referee and the VAR officials for 1, not giving the right call after the check, and 2, the referee for not looking at the monitor. A similar incident like this took place when we faced Tottenham at their stadium not too long ago. The same referee, Anthony Taylor, spotted Son kicking Rudiger and sent him off immediately for clear intent to harm. Later on in the game, Maguire would score the second goal for United, something that would obviously not have happened if he was sent off appropriately.
The second incident which took place with VAR was the goal we had canceled in the 54th minute. The goalscorer, Zouma, had nothing to do with the actual foul which occurred when Azpilicueta ‘pushed’ Williams before the goal. The problem was that Fred, prior to Azpilicueta’s push, shoved the Captain whose momentum carried him into Williams. The goal was checked by VAR and unjustly canceled, leaving the score at 1-0. The only other incident worth talking about was Giroud’s goal which was canceled for offside, but rightfully so.
Although it may seem like we’re the unluckiest team in the league, the truth is that many teams have suffered just as much or even more than we have so far this season. Sheffield United and Norwich have suffered the most season with a net difference of -6 goals so far. Leading the chart in positive decisions, Brighton has the most with +7 with Manchester United at +6. Although it’s not always the case, this chart brings to contention the case of VAR’s lack of consistency throughout the season. Even since day one, there have been very controversial VAR decisions almost every match week. Let’s take a deep dive into specific instances so far where VAR has been dreadfully awful.
The first notable issue with VAR and its inconsistency is the build-up play prior to the event taking place. Numerous times this season, something happened before a goal and the VAR decisions have varied drastically with no set rule or indication that everything that happened before was checked thoroughly. One such case was the Newcastle game played at St. James’ Park against Newcastle. Watford took the lead after just two minutes of play but Schar netted the goal which would eventually decide the draw. After further review, however, it was confirmed that Isaac Hayden accidentally touched the ball with his arm in the build-up, something VAR completely missed. The goal stood and the two teams shared the point without the referee or VAR reviewing the previous events. Athletic journalist Adam Levanthal tweeted after the game: “Re the #NUFC goal v #WatfordFC today. Have had it confirmed that VAR did simply miss the handball in the build-up to Schar’s goal & it should have been ruled out”. In this case, at least the officials admitted the error.
Similarly, Arsenal’s controversial game versus Palace saw Sokratis’ goal ruled out for a foul in the build-up play because of a tussle for the ball between players. So, if VAR checked the build-up play for this goal but not the one mentioned before against Watford, where is the consistency? Surely checking all variables of the events leading up to goal is more important than a minute of game time? VAR’s lack of specific rules when it comes to checking events destroys its purpose of fixing clear errors not seen by referees. Moreover, having similar instances with different decisions is an utter shambolic disaster from officials and needs to be supplanted with no-nonsense, clear cut rules.
Unfortunately for fans, the lack of inconsistency in build-up play is only a small part of VAR’s atrocious decision making. Earlier in the year when Sheffield and Newcastle played, one certain event dumbfounded fans. Newcastle player Jonjo Shelvey was on to a ball that was deemed offside by the linesmen. Nevertheless, Shelvey continued on goal as Sheffield players ignored him, eventually leading to Shelvey putting the ball in the net. Soon after, VAR deemed the goal as valid despite the entire Sheffield team following the linesmen’s decision for offside. The severe lack of agreement and communication between on-site officials and people in the VAR booth was demonstrated clearly in this game. Never should a defender have to worry about a chance of conceding when the flag is raised, simple as that.
Unfortunately, when it comes to penalties, VAR is arguably even more inconsistent. Earlier in the year, Manchester United famously missed 2 penalties in a game as Rashford and Martial both failed to slot it past the keeper. After looking back at both missed shots, it can be deduced that Krul was almost certainly off his line for both as seen below.
While Manchester United were poor in their penalty attempts, they both should still have been retaken for Krul’s encroachment. Even more so, Arsenal played Norwich not long after where they drew 1-1 after Aubameyang got to retake his missed penalty which he slotted past Krul. In this case, Krul was also seen off his line. Almost mirror events took place during both of these games but the VAR decisions were very different and game-changing. Arsenal managed to scrape away a draw in true Arsenal fashion whereas Manchester United suffered deeply in their pursuit of European football.
Lastly, just quite recently we had another VAR failure when we played Tottenham last weekend. In the middle of the game, Lo Celso and Azpilicueta had a struggle for the ball which sent Azpilicueta to the ground. While Lo Celso was in the air, he stepped on Azpilicueta’s leg very harshly leaving major stud marks. The tackle was so bad it was called by many as a “leg-breaking tackle”. The referee did not have a great view on the tackle and thus never gave a card. After a lengthy VAR review for a potential red card, they decided that there would be no punishment. Everyone and their mother would say it was a red card after looking at it the first time. Pundit Steve Nicol had this to say on the matter: “I don’t know what to tell you. I have never seen a challenge that has got red card written all over it any more than this”.
Moments after the event, VAR officials admitted they made a severe mistake, something Frank Lampard was infuriated by. After the match, he told reporters: “Everybody knew they made a mistake. We have the monitor and can view it. I was just waiting for the red card to be shown – not with real pleasure – because it’s just a tackle that endangers the player. That’s what VAR was brought in for, to see things that the referee and the pitch-side [official] don’t see. It’s just not good enough. Saying afterwards that they made a mistake is not good enough because they had a couple of minutes to try to get it right. They probably needed one viewing of that one to get it right. It’s another huge question mark on VAR. This one doesn’t need [the referee to look at] a pitch-side monitor. It’s a clear decision, a human decision. So Stockley Park, red card.”
In conclusion, VAR is in utter shambles in its current state. It has made wrong decision after wrong decision and makes Tom Ovrebo look like the fairest referee in football history. If there’s one thing that VAR did get right, however, it is that it unified all teams and fans, something that doesn’t happen often, in rejection of VAR’s severe and game-changing issues that need to be addressed before it can be used again. Otherwise, the beautiful game we all know and love will continue to decline through the misuse of VAR by its officials.